Student-organized event creates safe space for necessary discussions

Conference focused on being an ally

Photo by Anna Mateffy

Story by Jessie Tremmel, Op/Ed Editor

The Fall Diversity Conference 2014, titled Social Justice League: Stand Up, Speak Out, was held Saturday and Sunday in Davies Center.

 Two Peer Diversity Educators members, Katherine Myers and Emma Felty, coordinated the conference. Other PDE members were involved in the event.

 The theme of the conference was ally-ship, Myers said. She said she identifies as an ally but has struggled with what the title looks like or means. The event created a space for students, faculty, staff and community members to have a discussion about micro and macro aggressions toward oppressed groups in our community.

 “Having events like the diversity conference at UW-Eau Claire is important because there is still injustice,” Myers said. “Too many people go through their college experience without ever noticing or questioning their privileges.”

 The event attracted 30 student, faculty and staff participants both days. Participants left the conference with tools to recognize and intervene in unjust situations in their lives, Myers said.

 “I think that the event was successful,” Myers said. “We had participants and we had presenters, and both were very passionate and dedicated to having the conversations we facilitated at the conference.”

 Anne Wickland attended the Fall Diversity Conference because she is a leader of the Global Living Learning Community and is also friends with some of the Peer Diversity Educators and wanted to support them.

 She is involved in online communities that focus on activism and social justice and this event was helpful because she would talk to people opposed to just reading things on a screen.

 “Social justice and being an ally is a big thing that I have tried striving for,” Wickland said. “Especially within the past couple years.”

 The Eau Claire senior has heard of issues on campus with bias reports or racist or sexist comments being swept under the rug and said this event is good because a conversation is being started.

 “I kind of knew what it meant to be ally,” Wickland said. “This conference offered a way to think more deeply about it or how I personally can be a part of these safe spaces.”

 Wickland was only able to attend the conference on Sunday but said what she learned will be passed on to younger students next semester since she will be a resident assistant.

 There were several speakers at the event, but Wickland said David Shih’s presentation resonated with her the most. Her roommate has Shih as a professor now and always speaks highly of him, so Wickland was excited to hear him speak. She said he put things into perspective and had good discussion points.

 The conference helped educate Wickland and Myers. Myers said she has done more learning and self-reflection this past weekend than she has the whole semester and she hopes other participants have as well.

 “If even one person learned something new, or thought about something in a different way, then I would consider it a success,” Myers said. “One recurring comment during the weekend was that the people who needed to be there, were there, and that is what truly matters.”